America and its allies have failed in Iraq. George Bush is right to hold out against an even bigger failure
GEORGE BUSH has always been a gambler but this is his most audacious bet yet. Most Americans now believe that America has lost the war in Iraq. Only last month the Baker-Hamilton group, a bipartisan group of wise men (and one wise woman) told Congress that the situation in Iraq was “grave and deteriorating”. It recommended a managed withdrawal, dangling the prospect of the bulk of America's combat troops pulling out in early 2008. This week Mr Bush rejected that advice. He intends to defy world opinion, American opinion, congressional opinion, much military opinion and even the advice of many members of his own Republican Party by reinforcing rather than reducing America's effort in Iraq. Some will call this reckless. Some will say the president is in denial. We don't admire Mr Bush, but on this we think he is right.”
And what is he right about? Well, the Economist, right out of the box, starts substituting its own description of what President B. proposed for what President B. proposed. This isn’t unusual – rarely has a war been defended so ardently by systematically misdescribing not only its aims, but its tactics, its motives, and – most importantly – the people most effected by it. This is what the Economist thinks the plan is:
Mr Bush is investing much hope in a plan, known as “the surge”, to secure the mixed Sunni-Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad by injecting “more than 20,000” additional American troops on top of the 130,000 or so already in the country.
Now, the key word here is “mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad.” That description could mean one of two things – it could designate the subset of neighborhoods that are mixed Sunni-Shia, or it could designate the whole of Baghdad. In the latter case, it would be unnecessary – and yet, the only way that the description fits the proposal is if the latter designation is the correct one.
The lack of economy in the language betrays the anxiety of the writer. In actual fact, what is happening is a neighborhood by neighborhood attempt to clean the Sunni out of Baghdad. The cleansing is exactly what the Shia government – the Dawa government – of Maliki has been doing faithfully. To “secure” those neighborhoods, in conjunction with Maliki, is to ethnically cleanse them. In effect, President Backbone is proposing something parallel to adopting, say, Milosovic’s plan for Sarajevo.
However, because the White House favors being unclear about its own motives – looking in its heart all of the time, instead of watching what its brain does – this isn’t the announced American policy. There’s enough elbow room to pretend, in fact, that the effect is just going to be an accidental consequence of the act.
Now, as is the custom for the belligeranti, arguing for a program that has little chance of success and a much greater chance of failure requires, first, pretending to consider the one the one hands and the on the other hands. The Economist gets through this exercise in propaganda briskly:
It is by no means certain that the surge will succeed. The Americans have tried before to impose order on Baghdad, only for violence to flare again as soon as the troops move on (see pages 22-24). Those who say this is too little, too late, may be proved right. Sectarian hatreds have deepened since that referendum of 2005, as the wildly differing reactions of Shias and Sunnis to the hanging of Saddam Hussein demonstrated. Even with Iraqi helpers, American soldiers may not be welcomed in Baghdad's neighbourhoods now that Iraqis have turned for protection to their local militias. According to one survey last September, 61% of Iraqis approve of attacking coalition forces. It may be that by barging into Baghdad's neighbourhoods, and staying there this time, the Americans will merely stoke resistance and take (and inflict) more casualties.
In short, the surge may fail. But the surge is not the most significant part of Mr Bush's speech of January 10th. If this particular plan fails, a new one will be formulated. Far more significant is the strategic message that in spite of the Baker-Hamilton report, and notwithstanding the growing pressure from public opinion and a Democrat-controlled Congress, this president will not in his remaining two years concede defeat and abandon Iraq to its fate. And this, whether it is motivated by obstinacy, denial or a sober calculation of the strategic stakes in Iraq, is a good thing.”
One could make the argument here made about many things. For instance: “It is by no means certain that a perpetual motion machine will succeed.” Or: “It is by no means certain that a man jumping off a cliff could, by flapping his arms, fly safely over to the cliff facing him.” Or: “It is by no means certain that I could throw a rock that would fly all the way up and hit the moon.” The ass covering here is perfunctory. The Economist can’t really discuss the conditions that would give us a sense of whether the escalation would work or not because they have muddied the description of what the escalation is supposed to do from the very beginning. The continual pretence that Iraq is a tabula rasa, that the government in Iraq has left no record and thus is infinitely malleable, that the people of Iraq have not expressed, in polls and, more importantly, in supporting militias and insurgents, their sense that the occupation should be over, is the necessary precondition to continued failure. To discuss these things would be to strip away the pretence that the Iraq war has anything to do with democracy. It would lay bare the cost of the war both for the occupiers (delaying endlessly the reality that the U.S. has lost its Cold War hegemony in the Middle East and is going to have to negotiate in that system from a lower status) and for the occupied (the cost here has a simple name in the courts: it is called first degree murder).
A week ago, LI was surprised to read some eminent sense from Chalabi frontman, Jim Hoagland, in the Washington Post. Instead of continuing the campaign of crushing whoever, Hoagland proposed that the U.S. policy in Iraq should work, firstly, towards a ceasefire.
“… call a one-month halt to U.S. offensive actions -- a truce, in effect -- and encourage Iraqis to do the same. This would facilitate the holding of a peace conference in Baghdad, in which blood-stained radicals such as Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadith al-Dari, the inflammatory voice of Sunni insurgents, would be asked to participate.”
The second point has to do with Iran – doing exactly the opposite of the slimy President Backbone’s policy of weasely aggression:
“Bush's speech should recognize that Iran has legitimate interests in security in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region, and he should pledge that the United States will not use Iraq as a springboard for action against the Iranian regime.
These implicit security guarantees -- if met by a proper response from Iran -- could be the basis for a broad U.S.-Iranian dialogue and an eventual regional conference to endorse and implement the work of the Baghdad conference.”
Actually, to this point should be added that the U.S. should, over the last month, have been making much of the elections in Iran, which repudiated the President and the various hardliners. Instead, the election has been greeted with zip – because it occurred in the great American blindspot, which pretends that Iran is a tyranny run by mad mullahs. Iran is definitely run by too many mullahs, but then again … so is Iraq. And so is Saudi Arabia.
Now, LI is aware of the fact that Hoagland’s proposal wishes away President Backbone. The point of discussing alternatives like this is simply to start filling in the space of opposition to the continued war criminal policy of the White House krewe. Congress is beginning to assert itself. Of course, one of the things that should be done – just to start the discussion – is calling the Iranian Study group before a committee. This should be done solely to amuse us all with Bush’s oedipal rage that those people – his daddy’s friends – are back in D.C. President Backbone, while a terrible president, is at least amusing when he gets into one of his oedipal rages, and what else is the putz for but to make us laugh at him?
But the other thing calling the ISG would do would be to start loosening the lock of the administration on the policy choices before us in Iraq. At the moment, they have the same binary form as the power on the TV clicker – on and off, stay or go. Our notion is that the policy choices are more like the channels on that clicker –potentially different shows. One channel is off the air – the channel formed around every reason and goal that the U.S. was proclaiming in 2003. Even the Economist knows this, underneath the irrationality of its defense of the escalation. The American soldiers and the Iraqis are to be murdered in defense of the power relations that keep such as the editors of the Economist in bar tabs and speech fees.